By TIM ROWDEN
Wentzville, MO – The United Auto Workers Union is talking with General Motors about reopening auto assembly plants across the country, including the plant in Wentzville, in early May.
Under pressure from the UAW, Chrysler and Ford both announced last week that they would delay restarting production, which initially had been targeted for early May.
However, General Motors, which had been planning to bring in team leaders “and necessary essential workers” at the Wentzville plant this week to get trained on new safety protocols ahead of a planned May 4 restart, has agreed only to delay the restart by one week.
Twenty-three UAW members have already died of COVID-19, and many fear reopening the plants will lead to more deaths.
“At this point in time, the UAW does not believe the scientific data is conclusive that it is safe to have our members back in the workplace,” said UAW President Rory Gamble. “We have not done enough testing to really understand the threat our members face. We strongly suggest to our companies in all sectors that an early May date is too soon and too risky to our members, their families and their communities.”
Glenn Kage, president of UAW Local 2250, which represents workers at the Wentzville assembly plant, said GM wants to try to reopen with the first-shift first, then bring in second and third shift workers in the following weeks.
“What it sounds like is they’re going to put up thermal imaging (temperature testing) and stuff like that and hand out facemasks,” Kage said. “Personally, I think it’s a bad idea,” he had said earlier about the proposed May 4 reopening. “I think it’s too soon.”
Local 2250 represents about 4,000 workers at the assembly plant.
During the shutdown, they’ve been receiving $320 in weekly unemployment compensation from the state of Missouri and $600 a week in federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
“They’re getting by,” Kage said.
St. Charles County, where the Wentzville plant is located, had reported 555 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 28 deaths on May. 4
TENSIONS REMAIN HIGH
Last fall, UAW struck General Motors for six weeks before narrowly approving a new contract, to resolve the strike. Antagonism between the company and the union remains high.
UAW says it’s continuing to meet with companies to discuss how to best safely restart the plants.
“We know that auto assembly workers will be one of the first back to work as the economy emerges,” says Gamble. “So we are in deep discussions with all three companies and all of our sectors to plan ahead over the implementation of CDC safety standards and using all available technologies to protect all UAW members, their families, and the public.”